Saint Mary’s Prepares for the Future With New HyFlex Classrooms 

A HyFlex ClassroomWhen Saint Mary’s considered what it most needed to get ready for long-distance learning this fall as a result of COVID-19, the IT Services EdTech Department made sure our classrooms would be state of the art for the pandemic—and beyond.  

“We have what we call HyFlex classrooms—essentially, classrooms capable of being either hybridor flexible,” said James Johnson, PhD, SMC’s EdTech director. “HyFlex classrooms allow professors to teach to an in-person audience as well as a remote audience. The Media and Classroom teams implemented a pan, tilt, zoom (PTZ) camera to show in-class whiteboards, a microphone at the front of the classroom to help capture the voice of masked lecturers, as well as a dual-monitor setup that allows professors to teach both in-person as well as remote. The dual monitor is nice because it allows the video layout and screen share content to be placed on two separate monitors/screens. For example, Gallery or speaker view can be displayed on one monitor while the other monitor displays a content share. This is useful for PowerPoint presentations and hiding notes from the participants.”

“We have rolling carts equipped with LCD screens with a small computer to mimic an interactive screen for our larger classes, like our ensemble classes for Performing Arts. This allows our Media and Classroom teams to roll them into different areas in the Recreation Center and Soda Center, and faculty can touch the screen and have lectures on those as well.” Without these solutions, Johnson said, large classes and classes like Kinesiology and Performing Arts classes would have a difficult time conducting instruction.

Johnson also addressed the addition of the outdoor classrooms set in pavilions. “The success of the rolling carts has led to installation of all-weather screens in our outdoor pavilions. Instead of interactive screens, the pavilions will be equipped with large displays paired with drawing pads. Faculty have reached out and said that they were pleased with the pavilions and gave recommendations for the spring. IT Services incorporated faculty feedback and equipped six HyFlex Tents with workstations (Desktop and wifi enabled).”

The new tech directly has benefited SMC’s students this fall. “The HyFlex classroom initially was delivered to accommodate potential students who cannot attend due to illness, still allowing them to remote into the same class that they traditionally would have missed. I think those are the big takeaways initially.” 

Clearly, such high-tech classrooms benefit those going to school during the pandemic, but the classrooms also provide long-term benefits. “Looking long-term, HyFlex classrooms are a step in the direction of lecture capture; granted, there is a need to accommodate students seeking asynchronous options allowing them to ‘attend’ class at different times or choose a self-paced style of instruction.”

Overall, the new technologies mean greater flexibility for Saint Mary’s students. “These alternatives allow the College to provide more offerings for students and less disruption for students’ course requirements to graduate,” Johnson said.

Another new tech feature, the lecture-capturing software Echo360, allows faculty to utilize Zoom recordings to make interactive classroom content that students can interact with. “Students can leave notes on the lecture and can create discussions and bookmarks like, ‘Hey, I don’t understand this portion of the lecture.’ Then, the professor can go back and look at the lecture to see that a student had a question. This software also offers faculty analytics and gauges content engagement.”

“Being fully aware of fortifying academic resilience along the lines of continuity and contingency planning,” Johnson continued, “there is excitement around various faculty groups pulling together to define a path forward both in and outside of the classroom. As I support faculty in these efforts, I see innovations like lecture capture and HyFlex spaces as a step in the direction to add online learning options alongside Saint Mary’s popular face-to-face offerings.” said Johnson. 

Learn more about SMC’s EdTech Department here